Yes, People, the Families DO Matter!

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

The day a person even insinuates that a group of people doesn’t matter is the day they fall into that dangerous, deadly human trap – apathy.

If the family members of veterans didn’t matter, why are there so many outreach efforts intended to give them emotional support? While I’m sure nobody, unless they were being deliberately cruel, would state that vet families don’t matter outright, plenty of people, by their words and actions do hint that what they go through isn’t important.

When a status was posted on social media in recent months about veterans with PTSD, a comment rightfully pointed out that the families go through a lot, too. The OP’s, response was something to the effect of how pointing that out “doesn’t help the veterans”.

Seeing as how the OP has never been in that position that I’m aware of, she certainly doesn’t know what it’s like. Many family members of veterans with PTSD, particularly if the vet also has addiction issues as my late father did, go through their own hell on earth because of it.

Why does this matter? Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

  • People with PTSD and substance abuse issues who don’t get help do need it – without help, they are endangering themselves and others around them. Sometimes recognizing the hell their loved ones go through is what it takes for them to see their need for help.
  • Just because the spouse (or ex-spouse) and the children didn’t serve doesn’t make their lives any less valuable. To send the message that civilians impacted by a veteran’s trauma don’t matter shows the same type of callous disregard that many of our country’s leaders have for military and veteran families in general.
  • Glossing over the experiences of the families also shows a lack of respect for who the veteran is as a person. To act as though a veteran’s existence revolves completely around their identity as a veteran and nothing else shows no regard for them as an individual. Most do, of course, value their family members and to see others show such little regard for their loved ones hurts them, too.

In a nutshell, it’s safe to say that denying a veteran’s family’s need for help does more harm than good. No person, veteran or civilian, is an island, and true healing can only occur when all sides are considered.

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The Most Damaging of Myths

Battling PTSD (4949341330)

Even with all the attention that PTSD receives today, there are unfortunately people who believe that PTSD is something that only happens to weak people. The psychology site Psych Central addressed this and other common myths in one of their articles.

The weakness myth and other damaging ones need to be addressed and denounced as often as possible. The only thing that these ideas do is help create a stigma that keeps people from getting help, and not getting help is the last thing that needs to happen to anyone with PTSD.

Here’s a list of things to keep in mind:

  • People with PTSD are very likely to have an especially strong defense system when it comes to trauma – we must bear in mind that everyone’s response is different
  • The level of social support a person has often plays a significant role in how they cope with trauma – genuine friends and family members who take proactive, positive approaches are likely to make a better impact
  • Warfare is a type of interpersonal trauma, which is more likely to result in PTSD as opposed to a natural disaster or a car accident – sexual abuse and domestic violence are also types of interpersonal trauma
  • There is no deadline for when someone must “get over it” – reminders of the trauma can come up at any time, although many find effective ways of coping that minimize these incidents
  • One should never think that a traumatic event happened too long ago to seek help – many seek the help they need even a long time after the event

Combating these myths and having no place for them in our society is one of the best ways to bring help to the veterans and their family members that need it. We owe it to our men and women who have served and their families.

A Letter to a Wall (Inspired by a Peace Group’s Writing Prompt)

sacrifices

Dear Vietnam Veterans Memorial,

This feels odd to be addressing a wall, but talking to a wall is exactly what many adult children of Vietnam vets feel as though they are coping with with a public that still largely misunderstands the impact that this war has even today. All of the broken relationships, the heartache of those losing their loved ones to the effects of addictions, the human aspects are things you can’t get. As a silent witness, though, I know you can see that the impact on families is very real.

If you were a human, what would you feel, having witnessed so many people visiting you? Would you feel heartache for all those who lost loved ones? Share the anguish of those whose loved ones never came back and whose fate is unknown? Possibly some anger that the human race hasn’t improved much in its thirst for conflict? My guess would be you’d feel all three, and then some.

Memorials and monuments have been a part of the human experience for millenia. When we see memorials with names, we’re reminded of those lost. We shouldn’t forget, though, that behind each of those names is a person who lived, who loved, whose future accomplishments are and will remain unknown because their lives were cut short. Much of American culture glorifies the service member without considering what was important in their civilian lives, who loved them and who they loved, what they could have achieved had they lived.

Even for those who returned home, the things that made them who they are and who they were often get eclipsed in the light of honoring their service. There is more than meets the eye to what goes on with society’s designated “war heroes”. As a silent witness, you testify to the lives of those who were lost. However, it’s too easy to forget those who still live, and those whose lives ended long after their service. Many of the living still bear emotional scars, and many took their emotional turmoil to the grave.

Lastly, let’s not forget those who have indirectly become “casualties” in their own way:

  • The adult children who had their parent there for them only part-time, if at all, and have missed out on important bonding
  • The spouses who must often endure abuse that they’re expected to accept as okay because their partner is seen as a hero
  • The ex-spouses who get villified when their ex-partner wouldn’t get help and they had to leave for their own sanity and/or safety
  • The friends who don’t understand all the dynamics and think that their friend is antisocial
  • Family members who don’t know the full extent of what goes on when they’re not there and are inclined to blame everyone else.

As we remember the fallen, let’s hope that your witness to this war remains a testament to what we lost and are still losing. May you continue to stand as a stark reminder of war and its many costs. Maybe one day, our society will learn something.

The Siren Call We May Miss

Scream and shout

First of all, I’d like to thank Sister Gloriamarie (knitternun)  both for inspiring this post and for her support of the Facebook page I’ve created that offers help and hope to veteran families. My hope is that my  Hope and Healing for Veteran Families Facebook page will be a safe refuge for children, spouses, exes, friends and others who want to help a veteran in their lives or need healing from trauma inflicted by one no longer in their lives.

One of the things I’ve had to cope with since my biological father’s passing is people treating him as an exalted being who never did or was even capable of wrongdoing. In their eyes, his status as a perceived war hero absolved him of any wrongdoing.

I’ll be blunt: my father was not free from any taint of sin from the moment of his conception. Nor was he a monster, he was a good person at heart who never overcame his personal demons. However, his PTSD symptoms were significantly aggravated by his drinking habits, and many people in his life did little or nothing to help him.

As Gloriamarie said, the symptoms of PTSD are a siren call for help. Like sailors of old myths and legends, many people who ignore said siren call have to witness or be part of a shipwreck – in this case, the shipwreck of a life ruined by mental illness and/or alcohol abuse.

There are many reasons people ignore siren calls, one of them being pure and simple denial. It’s easier to believe that someone you love just “enjoys a few beers” and that their behavior is essentially harmless than believe they can cause some to fear for their very safety.

For some it’s easier to think that the more outrageous behaviors are something to laugh at. After all, how many people want to believe that behavior that horribly embarasses one family member is anything other than said family member being overly sensitive?

Unfortunately, for others, it’s easier to think that those who had to deal with a veteran who refused serious help were making things up or exaggerating. I think it’s all part of the denial game, assigning the blame to others instead of facing the fact that their loved one needs help.

Hindsight is better than foresight by a long shot. It’s impossible to know whether a marriage may have been salvaged or whether a parent may have mended a relationship with a child they alienated.

However we can, to a certain extent, control what happens going forward. The best way to build a bridge between yourself and others harmed by the same person – stop making frikkin’ excuses!

Don’t just chalk things up to the fact that they were drinking when they said hurtful, hateful, relationship-destroying words – recognize that words cannot be unsaid, and the wounds may not fully heal.

Never, ever, treat drunken antics as though they’re a joke – such behavior can impact others in the person’s life that their perception as a hero won’t fix.

Lastly, don’t put your head in the sand and ignore a veteran in your life that is crying for help by their actions. Recognize that sometimes they won’t allow their spouse or children in too deeply emotionally – it may fall on those in their lives prior to marriage or children to have influence in their recovery.

If it’s now too late, don’t dishonor your loved one’s memory by making excuses, making light of others’ suffering, or refusing to acknowledge the role of their brokeness. Do honor their memory by showing love, mercy and compassion to those they hurt the most in their lives – don’t turn your backs on them, you do need them, even if you can’t let see it.

 

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